A wounded warrior
After the catastrophic loss of his best friend in battle, Army Ranger Tyson Brooks trades in his fatigues for a badge, moving to Eden’s Ridge, Tennessee to rebuild his life and find a way to live in a world without Garrett. But no amount of protecting and serving the citizens of Stone County is enough to override the guilt that he simply didn’t do enough.
An incurable romantic
Romance author Paisley Parish has spent her whole career chasing the perfect hero and finding all the real life options lacking. Until she runs into her high school sweetheart—the one who left her for the Army. The old spark is definitely still alive, but the man carries far more scars than the boy.
A second chance to save each other
When Paisley becomes the target of malicious harassment, the police have no suspects, no leads, no way to make her feel safe. As her stalker escalates, she turns to the one guy she knows can protect her. Ty’s determined to put a stop to the harassment, even if it means moving in with the woman who’s so much more than the girl he used to love. He just has to remember to guard his own heart in the process.
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Copyright © 2021 by Kait Nolan
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
A Letter to Readers
Sneak Peek Let It Be Me
Sneak Peek When You Got A Good Thing
Other Books By Kait Nolan
Originally part of a group anthology, Bad Case of Loving Yourecounts Harrison and Ivy’s wedding, where Ty and Paisley cross paths again for the first time in eighteen years. You can read Made For Loving You without it, but I promise you don’t want to miss this meet cute. Grab your copy FOR FREE.
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This book is set in the Deep South. As such, it contains a great deal of colorful, colloquial, and occasionally grammatically incorrect language. This is a deliberate choice on my part as an author to most accurately represent the region where I have lived my entire life. This book also contains swearing and pre-marital sex between the lead couple, as those things are part of the realistic lives of characters of this generation, and of many of my readers.
If any of these things are not your cup of tea, please consider that you may not be the right audience for this book. There are scores of other books out there that are written with you in mind. In fact, I’ve got a list of some of my favorite authors who write on the sweeter side on my website at https://kaitnolan.com/on-the-sweeter-side/
If you choose to stick with me, I hope you enjoy!
“Can you see my baby bump?”
Paisley Parish dutifully looked as her best friend turned sideways and smoothed her sweater over her rounded midsection. “Yes. Although, to be fair, you’ve been showing for a month.”
Emerson grimaced. “I’ve looked fat for a month. I’m trying to figure out if I look pregnant.”
Smirking, Paisley sipped at a mug of tea. “I mean, the regular announcements to all and sundry by your very hot, younger husband kinda took care of that for you.” She’d never seen anybody more excited to be a father than Caleb Romero. His enthusiasm and absolute devotion to her friend was the stuff of romance novels. Paisley would know, as she wrote them for a living. The whole thing did her heart good.
Emerson rolled her eyes, but adoration was clear in the gesture. “He’s so very proud of his virility.”
“And you’re crying so hard about everyone knowing that sexy, unicorn of a firefighter is yours.”
Color pinked Emerson’s cheeks as she offered a sheepish grin. “I mean… you’ve seen him.”
“I have indeed,” Paisley grinned back. “And if he hadn’t been in love with you all this time, I’d have pursued him myself. Alas, he only ever had eyes for you.”
Watching Emerson and Caleb dance around each other for years had been like the longest running will-they-won’t-they romance plot in a favorite TV series. But unlike a show, Paisley had the option to call the protagonists out when they were being idiots. As a devout romance lover, she prided herself on intervening only when absolutely necessary—which she had when Emerson had lost her damned mind, letting fear get the best of her and walking away from the best thing to ever happen to her. They’d toasted Paisley at their wedding, and she was angling to have Baby Romero named after her in tribute. If her own love life was a hot mess, at least someone she loved was getting a happily ever after.
Emerson slid onto the other barstool at her kitchen counter with her own mug of tea. “Speaking of love and romance, how was Ivy and Harrison’s wedding?”
And that just turned Paisley’s mind to the precise hot mess she was trying valiantly not to obsess over. She’d recently attended the wedding of another writer friend and had her world turned upside down.
“The wedding was beautiful.”
“You say that like the reception was not. Did something happen?”
She’d been sitting on this for nearly two weeks, and the not talking about it wasn’t helping. Might as well come clean. “You could say that.” She fixed her gaze on the contents of her mug, as if the chamomile held some kind of answers. “Ty was one of the groomsmen.”
The thunk of Emerson’s mug on the counter made her wince. “Ty? Like the Ty? Your Ty? The high school boyfriend, who smashed your heart to bits? That Ty?”
Paisley held in a wince. That was the part she’d been trying not to think about. “That would be the one.”
After a long moment, Emerson picked up her tea again. “Wow. How was that?”
“It was fine.” Oh, brilliant, Parish. Fine. This is why you get paid the big bucks. You have such a command with descriptive words.
“Fine like you were civil to each other at the buffet table? Fine like he got bald and fat and you’re relieved you dodged that bullet?”
Paisley pressed her lips together. Damn, that tea sure looked interesting. Maybe if she stared hard enough, she could read her own fortune.
“Pais…spill.” Emerson pulled out the Mom tone she’d perfected on her teenager, Fiona.
“Okay, okay.” Maybe if she said it fast, like ripping off a bandage. “Fine like he grew up hot as hell, and we still have enough chemistry to light up metro Nashville, and I took him home with me.’’
Emerson’s jaw dropped. “You cannot just drop a bomb like that and stop there. Details, woman!”
She shrugged with more nonchalance than she felt. “This Creeper of a guy was hitting on me, and Ty stepped in pretending to be my date.”
“Wait…like he did when you met in high school?”
He’d done the exact same thing at a homecoming dance their sophomore year of high school, cementing his place as her first official hero. “It was a very déjà vu situation, except that he didn’t hesitate when I kissed him this time.’’
No, where the boy had frozen when she’d laid one on him to sell the fiction he’d presented, the man had pulled her in and laid waste to her defenses with a kiss that had been playing on her highlight reel of the night. It was a helluva lengthy reel.
“Oh my god! It’s like something out of one of your novels!”
It was, indeed. And that was part of the problem.
“What happened next?” Emerson demanded.
Eighteen years of wanting and wondering made me stupid.
“Creep went away, we danced, then walked down memory lane for a while, and I invited him home.” She shrugged. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
One brow winged up. Damn, Emerson really had the Mom Stare down. “Do I look dumb enough to buy that? I know how bad he hurt you.”
As Emerson had been the one to pick up the pieces when they’d met as roommates their freshman year of college, right after Ty had dumped Paisley and left for boot camp, she knew perhaps better than anyone how devastated Paisley had been. And it was that more than anything else that had kept her from spilling her guts right after the wedding. She didn’t want to answer the inevitable smart questions she hadn’t been willing to ask herself.
“It was a long time ago.” It was, and she should’ve been able to be as casual about it as she pretended to be. But when had anything with Ty Brooks ever been casual?
As the silence dragged out, confirming Paisley wasn’t going to address that issue on her own, Emerson asked, “Was he as good as you remembered?”
This Paisley could talk about. “No.” She couldn’t repress a purr. “He’s even better.” As he’d proved multiple times through the night she hadn’t wanted to end. That highlight reel began to play again, cranking up her inner thermostat.
“So, what was this? Closure? Are you starting over with him? Picking back up where you left off?”
All excellent questions—none of which had answers.
Paisley shrugged again. “It was one fabulous night with no understanding or expectation of more.”
Emerson’s moue of disappointment echoed her own. Not that Paisley wanted to acknowledge that outside the privacy of her own head.
“You’re not even going to keep in touch?”
“He lives in Eden’s Ridge now.”
“It’s a four-hour drive. Caleb and I have made it a few times to visit his sisters. That’s not so bad.”
“Not exactly easy dating distance.” Even if he’d been so inclined. Which he hadn’t.
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“We’re keeping in touch,” Paisley conceded. “But it’s casual. Neither of us wants serious.” Liar liar, pants on fire.
She’d done casual for years, since her second divorce had left her inherent sense of romanticism thoroughly dented, proving once and for all that men could be enjoyed but not counted on. It was all she could handle. So, she’d be fine doing casual with Ty, if that was all she could have. And if her stupid, foolish heart was aching for more, she’d get over it. Besides, she had more pressing things to worry about than when she was next going to get Ty Brooks into her bed, and that was a sad and depressing state of affairs.
Paisley’s phone began to ring. Joel Fisher flashed across the screen.
Rookie mistake. Think about the problem, and that shit manifests.
Bracing herself, she hit answer. “Detective. Tell me you have something.”
Ty tried not to wince as Crystal Blue proclaimed his presence to the entirety of the lunch crowd at the diner. Not that there was anyone there who didn’t already know who he was. Probably. Eden’s Ridge and the rest of Stone County was a small town. He’d grown up in one much like it within spitting distance over the state line in Georgia, so he understood that, even at more than a year in residence, he was still news and still carried the mantle of New Guy. What he hadn’t been prepared for was being considered fresh meat. The diner’s cheerful proprietress seemed determined to matchmake him, despite all his protestations that he wasn’t looking for a woman. Or a man. She’d run a few of those in his direction, too.
She had that gleam in her eyes as he approached the counter, and he abruptly wished he’d gotten takeout from Elvira’s Tavern. Denver wouldn’t try to marry him off with his patty melt.
“Crystal. Is my order ready? I’ve got some business down in Cummings.” Why couldn’t there be a convenient call from dispatch to back him up on that?
“Nearly. Have a seat, sugar.” She gestured toward the lone empty spot of the counter, right next to a woman in a trim pencil skirt and blouse, head down as she worked on her phone.
He had a bad feeling as he slid onto the stool.
Crystal began to swipe at a nonexistent spot on the counter. “Have you met our Celeste?”
The woman looked up, dark eyes going wide as a deer in the headlights.
Ty could relate. “I don’t believe so.”
“Celeste is the head of our Chamber of Commerce.”
He nodded to the woman, understanding he had to say something. “Ma’am.”
Crystal beamed. “Don’t these former military men have lovely manners?” Ty noted she didn’t bother introducing him. It was understood that everyone knew who he was.
“Um, yeah. Hi.” A faint flush rose beneath the tawny copper of her cheeks, and she flashed an awkward smile that told him she wasn’t any more prepared for this ambush than he was.
“You two both love the patty melt on sourdough with curly fries,” Crystal announced, preening as if she’d brokered world peace.
She was matchmaking by food preferences now?
As Ty tried to come up with a polite, noncommittal response, an arm slung around his shoulders. He recognized the weight and feel of it before the other man even began to speak. “Reckon you’re too late, Crystal. Ty here was seen in the company of a mysterious brunette at Harrison and Ivy’s wedding. Could be he’s off the market.’’
Ty had been avoiding this for two weeks. It seemed his time was up. He turned a silent glare on the man who’d had his back on more missions than he could count. It was really too bad Ty was gonna have to kill him.
“Is that true?” Crystal vibrated with equal parts affront and interest.
Ty thought of the brunette in question, startled to realize how much he wanted to say yes. But what he had with Paisley wasn’t a relationship. It was... Well, he didn’t know what the hell it was. He wasn’t willing to share with the class either way.
“My food, Crystal? I really need to go.”
With a pout, she handed over the bag. Ty made as dignified a beeline for the exit as he could manage.
Sebastian followed him out the door. “So, who is she?”
The girl he’d once been willing to do anything for. Including letting her go when his life path would have broken her, no matter how much it had hurt him to do it.
“Just a wedding fling.”
Even saying it made him want to wince. Paisley Parish wasn’t just anything, but he wasn’t opening up that vein with Sebastian.
“Well, whatever it is, we’re all happy to see you get back out there. Garrett would be proud that you’re starting to live again.”
The familiar rush of shame and guilt swept over him, as it always did whenever anyone mentioned the best friend he’d failed to protect. Garrett would be anything but proud. He’d be lining up to kick Ty’s ass for the casual, no strings arrangement he’d agreed to. Paisley was a forever girl, not a fling. When they’d both been preparing to go into the Army with an eye toward Special Forces, Garrett had called Ty a fool for breaking things off with Paisley instead of marrying her as Garrett had his own long-time girlfriend. From this side of it, with Garrett dead and Bethany a widow, it was hard not to think that, on this at least, he’d made the right call.
Ty didn’t know if he was making the right call now, keeping in touch with Paisley. He hadn’t planned to. Then again, nothing had gone according to his plan since he’d run into her at that wedding reception. He’d been riding on nostalgia and lust and the embers of other feelings he’d thought long dead and buried. His entire adult life had been spent running headlong into situations where others feared to tread, yet somehow this felt more dangerous.
After losing Garrett in the line of duty and separating from the Army, Ty wasn’t in any shape for a relationship. He lived for the job now. It was the thing that had salvaged his sanity, if not his soul. That made him a shit bet for someone like her. All he had to give her was the physical. Knowing she deserved so much more than that, he’d tried to walk away from her. Again.
But Paisley hadn’t asked for more than the physical. And when push came to shove, he hadn’t been strong enough to do what he’d done at eighteen. He was enough of a selfish bastard to take her at her word because being with her was the first thing he’d done in two years that had made him feel anything but numbness or raging grief. Garrett would’ve been taking him to task for using her. Or advising him to call the damned preacher.
But Garrett wasn’t here. There was, for now, only Sebastian, who was lounging against Ty’s squad car, grinning.
Shit. How long had he been standing here thinking about Paisley?
“Nothin’. I just think you’re mooning an awful lot over something that’s just a wedding fling.” The grin got broader, taking on a Cheshire Cat cast at the prospect that another of their circle had been hit with the love stick.
“Don’t be a dumbass. I’m not mooning.”
“Sure, you’re not.” He clapped Ty on the shoulder. “So, when are you going to see her again?”
“What makes you think I’m going to see her again?”
“Because, until you got ambushed by Crystal in there, that was the most relaxed I’ve seen you in…hell, maybe a decade. Certainly, recent memory. Seems a shame not to repeat the experience.”
Well, he wasn’t wrong. And Ty would’ve been lying if he said he hadn’t been thinking about her. Constantly. They’d been texting. He’d held himself back from calling her, as much to see if he could as to stick to the terms he’d agreed to. But he’d sooner be waterboarded than admit it to the asshat masquerading as his friend.
The radio at his shoulder crackled. “Deputy Brooks, this is dispatch.”
Grunting, Ty dragged open the door to his Sheriff’s Department cruiser and tossed in his food as he reached for the call button. “Dispatch, this is Brooks. Go ahead, Essie.”
“We’ve got at situation down at 583 Westinghouse Road.”
“What kind of situation?”
“Probable domestic dispute. Clyde is en route for backup.”
“On my way.”
Sebastian’s smile had disappeared. “Be careful, brother.”
“Always am.” He slid into the driver’s seat, nodding as Sebastian double tapped the hood in farewell.
Flipping on the light bar, he headed out to save the day.
Paisley knew the moment she laid eyes on Detective Joel Fisher that today was not going in her favor.
“You don’t have good news.”
Detective Fisher opened his mouth as if to protest, then spread his hands with an apologetic wince. “There’s no way to trace the package.”
She’d known that when she’d contacted him, having learned more than the average bear at the citizen’s police academy she’d attended for book research eight months ago. Real life police departments didn’t have the kind of forensic miracles so often shown on TV. But she hadn’t known what else to do when she’d found the package waiting on her front porch.
“What do we do? It’s escalating.”
“Each contact has been non-threatening,” he pointed out. “No actual laws have been broken.”
She offered up an unladylike snort. “Please. Is that supposed to make me feel better? Let’s call this what it is. I’m being stalked. Maybe taken on their own each gift doesn’t seem like a big deal, but together?” Feeling a chill at the thought, she wrapped both arms around her torso. “They’re getting more frequent, more personal, and more immediate to my physical proximity. It was bad enough when they were all going to my P.O. Box. That’s why I have it. But this one came to my house. This person knows where I live.”
The very idea of it skeeved her out. She wasn’t delusional enough to believe that her fans couldn’t find her if they tried hard enough. But the idea that someone would try? That they might believe themselves entitled enough to invade her personal life? That unsettled her in a way nothing else ever had. It turned the profession she loved into something that dialed up her anxiety and made it hard to even write.
Joel tunneled one hand through his sandy hair, going gray at the sideburns. “I wish I could do more. But the sad, shitty truth is that, even if we knew who was behind this, none of it is an arrestable offense. Without an actual, verifiable threat, there’s nothing we can do but document to create a case.”
“So, I’m just supposed to wait until this whack job graduates to showing up in person and traps me in some kind of Misery scenario?”
To his credit, the detective didn’t even blink at her outburst. “I understand you’re unnerved. But so far there have been no demands, no threats. There’s no reason to think it would go so far as to put you in any physical danger.”
“Right, because my peace of mind doesn’t matter at all.” Paisley pinched the bridge of her nose. This was un-fucking-believable. Someone was engaging in a type of psychological torture, and the good guys could do exactly nothing about it.
“Miss Parish... Paisley—” Reaching out a tentative hand, he laid it on her shoulder. “—I swear to you, I am not dismissing your concerns. I’ve added this incident to the file with all the others. I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got to work with.”
The assurance made her feel like a jerk, even as it wasn’t anywhere near enough. This man had been kind enough to endure her endless questions in the name of book research, even before the harassment started. He deserved more than a little credit for his patience.
She squeezed his hand in thanks for the support he’d so willingly offered. “I know you are. And I know that with a caseload of other, more serious crimes, this is nothing. I just…” There was no point in rehashing her frustration.
“l know.” He squeezed her shoulder and released her, hesitating. “Listen, do you want me to come by? I can make some recommendations for your security system. You do have one, right?”
“Of course. And that’s sweet of you, Joel, but not necessary. I’m covered.”
“I’ll at least arrange to bump up patrols in your area. Maybe a more regular presence of black and whites will help deter anything else.”
It was better than nothing. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
Joel lifted a box off his desk. The box. “You want to take it home?”
She didn’t. But she’d kept all the other ones as some kind of evidence, even though having it all in the house made her uneasy.
Gingerly taking the package, she rose. “I should get out of your hair. You’ve got more important things to do.”
“Making you feel safe isn’t a trivial thing.”
“I appreciate you saying so.” He could just as easily have been annoyed with her or called her hysterical. Plenty of other men would have gaslit her about there being a problem at all, but Joel had taken her seriously from the first.
“You’ll forgive me if I hope not to see you again anytime soon.”
He flashed a smile. “At least in my professional capacity.”
It wasn’t the first allusion he’d made to wanting to see her socially. He’d straight up asked her out after the citizen’s police academy. But she hadn’t been available then and now...now there was Ty. Sort of. So, she just smiled a little and gave a tiny wave. “Bye, Joel.”
“I’ll walk you out.”
Before she could say that wasn’t necessary, the phone on his desk began to blare. He held up a finger. “Fisher. Yeah. Yeah. Uh-huh.” Reaching for a notepad, he began to scribble.
As his eyes flicked back to her, filled with apology, she wiggled her fingers and pointed toward the door. There was no reason for an escort to her car. She wasn’t so far gone she didn’t feel safe in the parking lot of the police station, and she didn’t want to give him any false hope on the dating front. Their relationship needed to stay professional, maybe with a side of sort of friends. She never knew when she might need to pick his brain for more book research.
On the drive home, she kept glancing at the box in her passenger seat. This damned thing had ruined what was possibly the best weekend of her life. She should have been able to bask in the afterglow of magnificent sex and multiple orgasms. But no. She had to worry about this person, who didn’t appear to understand boundaries and thought it was fun to rattle her.
As she strode up her front walk, the box under her arm, she wondered if that’s what it was. Was it malicious? Could it be a case of someone with no social skills, who didn’t understand how freaking creepy this whole thing was?
The sight of another box placed neatly in the dead center of her doormat had her going cold.
Scared, furious, Paisley marched up the steps. She jammed the key into the lock and, swearing a blue streak, cast a hunting look around. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, she scooped up the new package and hustled inside.
The moment the door shut, her adorable mess of a mutt was on her, joyfully barking hello and trying to climb her so he could lick her face.
“Okay, okay. Down, Duke.”
She managed to dump her purse and both boxes on the entryway table so she could rub down her ecstatic pooch. He immediately rolled to his back, giving her his long stretch of belly for attention. Well accustomed to this routine, she scrubbed him from head to tail.
“Want a cookie?”
Duke leapt up.
“Let’s go get a cookie.”
The dog scrambled ahead of her, his paws slipping and sliding on the hardwood floor as he raced for the kitchen and the treat bucket. She snagged the new package and carried it with her.
Duke inhaled the peanut butter biscuit before finally flopping down to stare up at her in adoration, baseball bat of a tail sweeping the floor. She’d be able to actually do something now.
Studying the latest arrival, she took in the brown paper wrapping. Exactly as the one before. But unlike that one, this hadn’t been shipped and dropped off by a delivery service. There was no address at all, just her name neatly printed on the top.
Someone had brought this in person. To her house.
Retrieving her phone, she snapped pictures from all sides, just as she had of all the others. For a few seconds, she considered calling Joel to apprise him of the latest and ask if he could try to lift prints. But she knew there’d be none other than her own. She wasn’t even sure brown paper would hold fingerprints.
Ripping the paper with perhaps more violence than necessary, she tore into the package. They’d found nothing special in any of the others. Why should this be any different?
Inside, nestled in plain white tissue paper, was a dog collar. With trembling hands, she lifted it out. Made of a bright red, woven nylon, the buckle-style collar was utterly innocuous. Digging into the tissue to see if there was anything else, she heard something thunk to the bottom of the box. Pulling out the tissue entirely, she found a metal tag in the bottom. She started to reach for it, then stopped herself to go retrieve a pair of tweezers. Lifting it out by the edge, she turned it over to read what was embossed in the metal: GEORDI.
Paisley’s blood ran cold. Why would someone send her a collar with the name of the blind dog from one of her books? Was it a threat to Duke? She posted about him on social media all the time, so it stood to reason this person knew about him. And they’d been to her house to drop this off.
It wasn’t an indictment by itself. But it felt too personal. If it had been a true fan gift of some kind, it would’ve been accompanied with a letter or note or something. Instead, it was just the collar, without even the usual card printed with Your biggest fan, leaving her to draw her own conclusions as to the message.
Paisley had a very, very vivid imagination, and her mind had extrapolated all kinds of horrors before her fingers even closed around her phone. Worried and a little sick, she scrolled to the right contact and hit dial.
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